Thursday, April 9, 2015


 On my recent trip to Vashon Island, the proprietor of the Betty MacDonald Farm where I stayed had thoughtfully supplied piles of books: old, new, picture books, history books, books on architecture and design, books on Arctic explorers, books on flowers, shells and trees.

I can hardly imagine a more delightful afternoon than the one I spent propped up on the daybed, looking over Puget Sound and riffling through some of these dreamy, thought-provoking books. A sampling:

"Another true cypress is the Mexican cypress, usually called cedar of Goa. It was once mistakenly thought o have originated in Portugal, which had a colony in Goa, on the west coast of India--such are the ways names are given! The Monterey cypress, C. macrocarpa ("large-fruited"), was named by a German botanist employed by the London Horticultural Society to collect plants in California. When Karl Theodore Hartweg found the Monterey cypress in 1846, he said it "closely resembled" the cedar of Lebanon, but he didn't call it a cedar. The Monterey cypress grows larger outside its natural habitat in California. It is thought to have been stranded after the Ice Age in a less lush habitat than it originally had, and prefers."

--Diana Wells, Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History, from the chapter "Cypress"

"It is safe to assert that in decoration with gold and yellow we cannot hold the candle to our ancestors: save, perchance, in the department of book-binding. One meets occasionally with a handsome gilt-edged book or a find modern yellow leather binding. But who can imitate parchment stained by age and time with yellow, or one of those pieces of creamy old ivory which, chased with with gold, present so beautiful an appearance? Most old things weathered by the air have a distinctive charm which no hand-process can produce.

Think of old white-painted houses, which with the passage of time have acquired a peculiar bright yellow, a yellow derived from air, which no decorator's chalk-wash can equal. The artificial colouring matter is simply different from the flavous coating with which the air gradually invests anything which boasts a white surface. It is a thing to note how in the long run in Nature's handicaps yellow carries its colours past all others to victory. What does age not turn yellow? Our human skin, our bones, old wood, white paper, and green leaves, all submit to its influence. Nature devises us a mournful treat in the autumn yellows of the woods: no strident yellow, no sheeny light-filled yellow of the spring, but a mild adieu-giving yellow, dissolving into violet atmospheric tones, or an orange ruddy yellow before a background of greenish sky. Of its leafage we gladly take a spray home with us and feel pleasure with its possession throughout the winter. Only the arrival of spring with its first brilliant yellow flowerets makes us notice that the yellow that so appealed to us is now grey and dust-covered."

--M. Bernstein, Colour in Art and Daily Life, from the chapter "Yellow, As Colour and Light"

"When Oregon pioneer Martha Gay Masterson's little son Freddie died after a sudden and brief illness, the family buried the boy in a place where he loved to play, so that 'the little birds he loved in life sang their evening songs over his grave.' His little playmates 'came loaded with lovely white flowers' which were strewn over his grave. Only a day or so before he grew ill, Masterson had cut his curls for the first time, and asked what should be done with the ringlets. Freddie had answered, 'You take one curl, Mama, then I will put the others out by the big tree and the birds can have them to build their nests.' Busy with her work, Masterson did not follow him outside and had all but forgotten the incident until late in the fall when one of her daughters called her outside to see a bird's nest she'd found. There in the tangled mass of sticks were little Freddie's golden curls. Twenty-one years later, Masterson still had that little nest."

--Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith, Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier, from the chapter "Behind Closed Doors: Pioneer Women and Family Dynamics"

"March 28 [the day I was on Vashon]: Gathered some of the young crimson catkins of the Black Poplar. The last few days have been very cold and dry, with keen north wind, and any quantity of March dust in evidence.

This morning I saw some Frog spawn which had been brought in from a pond, together with some Caddis grubs in their funny little cases of sticks and straws. One grub looked very smart, he had stuck his house all over with bits of bright green rush and water plant."

That was on a page with three charming small water-colors of "Moss-cups."

And on the previous page, with a painting of "Nest and eggs," this quote from E.B. Browning:

Then the thrushes sang
And shook my pulses and the elm's new leaves.

--Edith Holden, The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady

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